High Uintas Wilderness – Day 5 – And it was only 4 miles
October 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
The day would prove to be a lot more challenging than the 4-ish miles we calculated we had to travel. On paper it seemed like it might be an easy day. Eighth mile return to the H55 trail, and then 3.5 miles to and over Bluebell. We had studied the lake documentation and we decided to camp on X25, one of the unnamed lakes without camping restrictions, and we hoped some native cut-throat trout. 🙂
I was up first again, but really, that is such a relative statement. I was the first one to take a pee that didn’t go back to bed is a much closer to the truth statement. The light on the lake wasn’t the same beautiful light we had the previous night, but still I wanted a panorama of the lake in the morning.
Returning to camp I found others feeling as cold as I was feeling, so we rekindled the fire to get a little warmth generated. The weather front that had moved through did bring cooler morning temps, and a little fire would help with that.
We dawdled and drank our coffee drinks, ate our breakfast oats, made our cat hole runs (multiple) and chatted up the day. We were all feeling pretty decent, and satisfied with what lay ahead.
The sun arose, the temperature climbed, we dried what needed drying, extinguished the fire, packed our bags, hoisted them on our backs and we were set to leave. I was the last one out of camp and the last thing that caught my eye was the chipmunk that had been pestering us since we had arrived. It went right to the spot where we had assembled breakfast, and found every bit of granola and oatmeal that didn’t make it into our respective bowls. One very happy and contented Chipmunk.
Funny thing about wilderness trails. Though apparently it is okay to post signs at trail junctions, it is not okay to utilize artificial markers. So no blazes on any trees, however, it is okay to slash a tree. This is the practice of taking a hatchet and striking a vertical chip out of the bark. It creates a scar that serves as a marker. Another marker is the rock cairn, which of course requires rocks. Turns out there are a lot of rocks in the High Uintas. With all of this, including the fact that people bring horses and other pack animals along these trails, it is still possible to come to a point where it is not clear where the damn trail goes.
Two places where this can happen, is a marshy meadow where there are few-to-no rocks, and no trees, where the other side of the meadow doesn’t easily reveal where the trail re-enters the woods. It is possible the trail crosses, and then moves along the edge before it enters the woods. It is also possible that it does not and then we wonder “Where did the trail go?” This is what happened to us on numerous occasions this morning.
Finding the trail again isn’t impossible, but it is a pain in the ass. This is where the iPhones were the most useful, Using a navigation app with downloaded topographic maps that also show the trail, you can utilize the GPS and the compass feature to guide yourself back to the trail.
That is of course if, (and that is a big if) the trail marked on the map is actually the location of the trail. Given the +/- accuracy of the GPS, and knowing about where you are, and clearly where Bluebell Pass is located (you can see it), it doesn’t take too many “Fuck!!”s and “Shit!!”s and “Anyone spot a fucking cairn yet?”s before you are relieved to be on your way again.
Problem with losing the trail, is that when you find it again, it isn’t easy to go back and see where you fucked up so you can add a rock cairn where needed so the next poor bastard doesn’t lose it. Some how the horses stay on it.
Apparently the trail hugged the west side of a marshy meadow, crossed it (couple of big rock cairns in the middle of the marsh), possibly doubled back to ascend the North side of Bluebell initially before swinging across to the south side. We made it across the marsh, but figured the trail entered directly, or to the right of the crossing. The initial wooded area wasn’t difficult, only downed trees around, but no clear trail could be found. Soon though the elevation gain began, and it quickly turned to rocks and boulders. Clearly no place for a horse. Larry and I went on ahead of the others; He to the right of me, and both of us scrambling up different sections of the rock field. I took the time to lay cairns for Walt, Greg and Andy thinking “Poor Bastards this is pretty hard”, and Larry and I met eventually atop a small plateau where we found the trail again. That is where we found out that it hugged the north side of where we had been. Oh well.
From there it was Larry leading me, and the others moving at their own comfortable pace. Personally, the sooner I am on top the better. Take time for some pictures of the view that would eventually be behind us, and keep the eyes pointed at the top. At this point the trees started to thin, and the trail was easier to follow now that the horse ruts made the trail obvious. Still though it wasn’t easy. No more switchbacks, as it seemed even the trail cutters just wanted to get it done.
There was a false ridge line that appeared to be the top, and what was worse, the ridge on the opposite side of the descending bowl came into view as well, though at first it was not nearly so clear that we didn’t have to achieve that! A few breaths caught, eyes cleared and focused, and three dimensional binocular vision clearly told us that we were well placed and the top was a lot closer than we first thought.
Atop we found a wind break rock cairn where we dropped our packs, got some liquid refreshment, took some initial photos, and explored the general area while we awaited the arrival of the others. The view in both directions was remarkable, and based on what we could see in the surrounding weather, we might be spared any afternoon precipitation this fine day. It was somewhat breezy, but not uncomfortable, and I think we may have alternately pulled on another layer because of our initial sweatiness (think evaporative cooling), and removed again when we warmed up.
Larry and I were sure we could get some cuss words out of our crew if we descended back to the false ridge and awaited their initial remarks when they too realized they weren’t on top yet. Rewarded we were thanks to Andy! Happy we were though to see everyone on top at 11,400 feet. Andy did take some Oxygen hits, we hung out, took some pictures, hoisted our packs, collected our walking poles, and quickly lost the trail again. Damn it!! I don’t know how it happened. We were following rock cairns but then they stopped. I think what happened is that we followed cairns to the high point in the pass, but the trail had really gone south from the wind break.
Needless to say it was frustrating, and there was another boulder scramble. I went left; Larry and Greg went right and Andy sat tight before committing to any direction, he wanted to be sure someone was going in the right direction. Larry and Greg found the trail and I was way off when I found Andy and there wasn’t enough of him visible to be standing. Though he did fall, he fell backwards into his pack and uphill thus crushing another hiking pole and getting a minor scrape. Walt and I converged on his position and raised him back to his feet. Pride a little bruised we continued on, found the trail, and humped our way down off the pass.
The views into Swift Creek Basin were spectacular. All the lakes we could see had us all anticipating productive fishing and another protein snack again that night. X-26, X-25 and Farmers in the background. We were settled on finding something between 24&25. As usual Larry and I scouted ahead. It didn’t take long really, though we did mistakenly settle on a pond attached to X-24 and not X-24 itself. I marked the trail, and then walked back 130 strides before I came upon my friends. “Only 130 strides to camp!”. Sure they were my strides, but 130 isn’t much.
After the usual camp setup, we assembled fishing rods, I attached a dry fly and we hiked up to X-25 for a go. It wasn’t far, but there was some boulder scrambling to get to what appeared to be better locations to fish. The lake though didn’t seem very active. Larry and I both came up empty. I think I spotted something out in the middle, but there was no activity along the shore. 😦 Failure.
More of the same when it came to settling in for camp and the camp fire. We all pushed it a bit and hung out longer before finally turning in. This next-to-last night would reveal a strange far off late night thunder storm. I had arisen to pee, and after snuggling back into my bag, I was staring at the sky to the south, and I started to notice flashes. Sort of like camera flashes. Seemed like lightening, but there was absolutely no thunder. The storm must have been 35-50 miles north. Lasted about 30 minutes. Very strange.